At The Walt Disney Company, we believe that an inclusive environment is one that welcomes and celebrates all people. As storytellers, we have the power to continuously celebrate strong and empowered women around the world. Across our global brands and businesses, our work to prioritize gender diversity and equity never stops. This Women’s History Month, we’re excited to have the opportunity to spotlight some of Disney Consumer Products, Games and Publishing’s amazing women.
We had the chance to connect with Jennifer Levesque, director of editorial at Disney Publishing Worldwide (DPW). Levesque discussed the new venture she is leading between DPW and ESPN to create a new imprint, Andscape Books. See what she had to say below.
Q: Tell us about your work in Editorial for adult audiences! How many titles does the team currently release?
Jennifer Levesque: At Disney Publishing Worldwide, we have recently announced two new adult imprints, Hyperion Avenue & Andscape Books, publishing about 20 titles in the first year. We plan to soon grow to 60 titles a year. It’s a big initiative and an exciting time for us!
Q: Disney Publishing Worldwide and ESPN recently teamed up to create a new imprint, Andscape Books. Can you please describe how your team will select the titles?
Jennifer: Andscape Books focuses on Black voices, and explores themes of race, culture, and identity intersecting with sports, fashion, the arts, health and wellness, popular culture, and social issues. The main book categories are memoir and narrative nonfiction for adults, but we are planning to expand into young adult and children’s titles as well. We partner with vice president and editor-in-chief of Andscape, Raina Kelley, and her team to review book proposals and seek out new authors. We look for books that are thought-provoking, but also inspiring and hopeful. An example of a book I’m excited about is the upcoming memoir by Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons. Maya paused her successful WNBA career to help overturn Irons’ wrongful conviction and prison sentence; the book will also cover the couple’s life, love, and ongoing social justice work.
Q: How did you get started at Disney?
Jennifer: This is my second stint at Disney! I worked at the original Hyperion Books, back in 1995 to 2002. While there, I worked on Touchstone film tie-ins, such as “Journey to Beloved” and “The Making of Armageddon,” as well as editing books by George Carlin, Willard Scott, Ashanti, Joan Collins, Jay Mohr, and others. After that, I worked at a number of publishing houses, but I always wanted to come back to Disney. In 2018, I got the opportunity to join Disney Publishing Worldwide and help launch these new book imprints.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received throughout your career?
Jennifer: Someone once told me to always get back to people in a timely manner, no matter who they are. This shows respect. In this age of digital communication and “ghosting,” I’m finding this piece of advice to be more and more relevant. Also, it’s important to give people credit and recognize their accomplishments. This is a collaborative business and we all succeed together, but everyone needs to feel good about their individual contributions.
Q: How do you work across the company to bring Disney Publishing’s content to life across our owned channels, like Disney+ and Hulu?
Jennifer: We live in an age of media franchises, and properties just don’t exist in one space anymore. As a content engine within the company, we work closely with our entertainment partners to acquire and create books that have potential in TV, film, and other products. Of course, we also want our books to stand on their own merit, but we do try to align with our partners as much as we can. A perfect scenario would be that one of our thrillers, for example, becomes a limited series on Hulu, a Disney podcast, and a merchandise line. Fans want that kind of immersive experience with beloved properties. The content partnership goes the other way, too, as we create books using Disney-owned IP. For example, our “Golden Girls Cookbook” has sold 80,000 copies so far, and we have books coming out in the future that tie-in to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The X-Files.”
Q: Do you have a favorite leadership book?
Jennifer: This sounds cheesy, but I loved Bob Iger’s book, “The Ride of a Lifetime.” He talks about how success often comes from the basics—working hard, being in the right place at the right time with opportunities, practicing human-centered leadership, and having (and showing) optimism. Starting with the basics will often get you where you want to be. I also found a lot of leadership inspiration from Michelle Obama’s fabulous memoir, “Becoming.” She talks about how success starts with how you see yourself, which I think is great advice.
Q: Why does female representation in the workplace matter to you?
Jennifer: Women are the #1 consumers of books! Book publishing can’t survive without a large number of female executives sharing their perspective. Of course, we want our books to appeal to a broad audience, but we need as many authentic voices as possible to make our product better.
Q: What advice do you have for women looking to grow within the company?
Jennifer: I think relationships are extremely important. At Disney in particular, there are so many different areas of the company and they all tend to intersect at some point. There’s a lot to learn and it’s these people who are going to teach you. Making and maintaining relationships with people across the company enables you to make the magic happen.
Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Jennifer: I would say not to be afraid of failure. A big part of publishing is failure—not all books sell what you hope they will sell—but you learn something from every single one. You just have to move forward with confidence. The other piece of advice, which I mentioned earlier, is to cultivate those relationships! That junior agent you become friends with will be a powerhouse agent in ten or fifteen years. Business relationships are important at all companies, but especially in publishing and especially at Disney.
Q: What are the best examples of positive change in the workplace that you have noticed in the past five years?
Jennifer: There’s been so many positive changes. There has been stronger oversight across the board. Women and younger employees are encouraged to speak out and speak up, which is much different from when I was a junior editor. Diversity and inclusion efforts have ramped up. And even the move towards a more flexible work/home life model is a huge improvement over how things used to be. On the business side, the advent of streaming, plus eBooks, audiobooks, original audio, and podcasts means that there are more opportunities to explore in publishing than ever before.
Q: What improvements do you hope to see in the next five years?
Jennifer: I think everything I mentioned above will only get better and more refined. It’s fascinating to witness how our workplace is evolving, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!